Washington

Migrant smugglers take advantage of Texas deep freeze


Border Patrol agents in Texas were tipped off by a ranch hand earlier this week to a suspicious Chevrolet Avalanche that had just loaded up illegal immigrants from the side of the road.

When agents caught up to the vehicle, they found a driver, a passenger and nine suspected illegal immigrants, five of them in the cab and four in the truck bed, exposed to the elements with the wind chill temperature at 9 degrees Fahrenheit. One woman was already dead and two more had to get emergency medical treatment because of hypothermia.

A consequence of the cold snap that’s engulfed much of Texas is that some migrant smugglers are figuring it’s the right time to try to sneak people north out of the border areas, figuring the Border Patrol has its hands full with other duties right now and that highway checkpoints will be shut down because of the weather.

Customs and Border Protection says it has recorded 15 migrant deaths in Texas so far this month, and seven of those have been blamed on exposure to the cold.

“Despite the frigid temperatures and inherent dangers of crossing the border, people continue to risk their lives every day to enter the United States illegally,” the agency said in a statement to The Washington Times.

“In recent days, Border Patrol has conducted rescues of individuals who were mercilessly abandoned by smugglers. Some of the rescued individuals required medical attention after being exposed to frigid temperatures,” the agency said.

The cold front extended deep into Texas, plunging regions all the way to Brownsville into freezing temperatures, knocking out power for millions of residents and leaving snowy and icy roads.

One border county sheriff told The Times that in his region, smuggling was probably way down, chiefly because nothing was moving at all.

Crossing the Rio Grande right now would be extremely dangerous and being on the roads would be so conspicuous it would make apprehension more likely.

Yet some smugglers figured the weather would also be enough of a hindrance for law enforcement that it is worth the try.

Jimmy Lopez-Garcia, who was arrested at the Border Patrol’s highway checkpoint near Falfurrias on Monday on human smuggling charges, told agents he was assured by the man who hired him that the checkpoint would be closed because of the weather.

According to court documents, Mr. Lopez-Garcia’s phone text messages showed he was being paid $1,200 per person to smuggle eight people through the checkpoint to Houston.

Over in Laredo, Border Patrol and ICE agents moved in on a stash house and found 105 illegal immigrants stuck in a house that had been without electricity for four days. Migrants said they had lost feeling in their hands and feet. Two of them told ICE agents they’d paid $8,000 apiece to be smuggled into the U.S.

In the incident with the Chevy Avalanche the driver, Lucio Magana Aguilar, was found to be an illegal immigrant himself, according to court documents. He went out thinking he was going to pick up a couple of people but when he got to the spot there was the whole group of nine. He thought he was getting $1,000 to make the trip.

Agents said the guy who arranged the smuggling event bailed out of the vehicle and ran across the snow. Agents had not caught up with him as of the middle of the week.

One of the passengers was a 17-year-old teen who made the trip from Guatemala without any family.

The dead woman, meanwhile, had not been identified. Agents said the county medical examiner’s office was shut down because of the weather and road closures.

Local news reports said Border Patrol agents have performed hundreds of rescues of migrants caught in the deep freeze. Many of them phoned 911 to give themselves up and be taken in.

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